I was reading yet another Civil War book not too long ago —a speculation that the South could have won if it had followed Stonewall Jackson's vision to attack the North's infrastructure as opposed to what actually happened, which was the South's following Robert E. Lee's insistence that Southern independence depended on destroying the Army of the Potomac in costly battles of attrition — when it occurred to me why this totally American war is rather difficult for most Americans to grasp.
It's the names involved.
No. Really. It can get confusing in a hurry.
For example, one of the early commanders of the Union army was a fellow named Irvin McDowell. He lost the war's first major battle at Manassas, VA., a place really not that far from a village called McDowell. The Battle of McDowell, as it turns out, was won by Stonewall Jackson a year later, in May, 1862, during his Shenandoah Valley campaign.
I'm pretty sure McDowell, the guy, was never in McDowell, the town. Thank goodness for small miracles.
I've learned that when you're in the Shenandoah, you go "up the Valley" when you're heading south, and "down the Valley" when you're headed north. It's because of the physical lay of the land and river flow, and not because of the way it looks or feels on a map. Jackson, for example, went down the Valley on his way north to Cedar Mountain prior to Second Manassas.
I almost quit my Civil War studies right then, my logic being, well, logical, and apparently, all bets are off in the Shenandoah.
And wait a minute. There was a Second Manassas? More than one? Yep. Right there at Bull Run. Same place. Except, early in the war, the Confederates named their battles for nearby towns, while the Union named them for geographic features. That confusion pretty much stopped by 1863, otherwise, the struggle in Gettysburg well might be named for a lazy little creek and consequently Lincoln might have delivered the Willoughby Run Address. Not quite the same impact there.
Confederates call the Battle of Antietam "Sharpsburg," while Seven Pines (part of the Seven Days Battles — I know — in the Peninsula Campaign) is also known as Fair Oaks, while White Oak Swamp is also called Glendale. Or Frayser's Farm.
I have a headache.
We all know the Confederate president was Jefferson F. Davis. Did you know there was a Union brigadier general named Jefferson C. Davis? No relation. The Yankee Davis had a distinguished career going for him — he helped win the Battle of Pea Ridge — until he shot and killed his superior general, Bull Nelson, in an argument in late 1862. That incident, no doubt, would have delighted Jefferson F. Davis, if he was ever made aware of it. Somehow, Yankee Davis — who was a capable general — avoided charges in the murder and continued his service. He ultimately ended up stationed in Alaska after the war, never promoted, the army being the army in its infinite wisdom.
John B. Gordon was a Confederate general at the Battle of Willoughby Run, but another Rebel general, James B. Gordon, was not. Neither was Confederate general George W. Gordon, who went on to help found the Ku Klux Klan after the war. George Gordon Meade, however, was the Union general who directed the Yankees to victory at Willough... never mind.
J.E.B. Stuart was a famous Confederate cavalry commander (not Calvary, by the way), but Gen. George H. Steuart also led Confederate horsemen in the war. He was called "Maryland" Steuart so as not to be verbally confused with JEB.
I'm not sure I even want to consider A.P. Hill and D.H. Hill, two Confederate generals who served Lee well. D.H. Hill ended up as Stonewall's brother-in-law, which may or may not add to the confusion. A.P. Hill lost his girlfriend, Ellen Marcy to future battlefield opponent and former West Point roommate George B. McClellan. Umm, McDowell. No, McClellan. That turned out to be a good thing for Ellen, because ol' A.P. dealt with a bout of gonorrhea in his Cadet days.
Edwin Stanton was Lincoln's Secretary of War, but I'm almost positive Stanton never visited Staunton (pronounced "Stanton"), VA., which was an important Confederate supply depot and transportation center up — no, wait, down — no, up — in the Valley.
You can't make this stuff up and it just goes on and on. Alexander "Sandie" Pendleton was a capable and respected staff officer for Jackson, but his father, William Nelson Pendleton, was Lee's ineffectual if not incompetent chief of artillery.
And don't forget Albert Sidney Johnston and Joseph E. Johnston, two Confederate generals who were not related. Albert was in the western theater and died at the Battle of Shiloh. Joseph was wounded at the Seven Days — two months after A.S. was killed — and was replace by some guy named Lee.
I've been told that I could be a good teacher of the Civil War, or maybe a battlefield guide in my retirement. But I think not. I'm probably better off simply reading books about the war and popping Tylenol.